Reading William Herebert for Lent

Poetry News

By Harriet Staff

It’s been a minute since poet and medieval preacher William Herebert walked on Earth. Centuries, in fact. But the Catholic Herald points out that his, and many other friars’ contributions to English verse are still relevant. Herebert was one of the first to translate hymnns from Latin to verse in English. Eleanor Parker writes, “He was evidently a learned man, and his poems show that he gave careful thought to the difficult question of how best to express complex religious ideas in his own language.” More:

Herebert’s poems survive in a manuscript book written in his own hand, noted down along with his Latin sermons and other texts useful for the medieval preacher. There are 23 short poems, arranged roughly according to the cycle of the liturgical year. Some are original compositions, but most are translations or reworkings of Latin or French texts, freely adapted into English. They include the first English verse translations of some well-known hymns, such as Veni Creator Spiritus and the Palm Sunday hymn All glory, laud and honour.

There’s a powerful poem based on the Good Friday Reproaches (beginning “My folk, what have I done to thee?”), as well as poems for Advent, Christmas and Lent, which Herebert calls “this holy fasting, forty days lasting”.

Perhaps Herebert’s most memorable poem is for Holy Week. It’s an imagined dialogue between angels and Christ after his Resurrection, and begins with the angels asking:

What is he, this lordling, that cometh from the fight,
With blodrede wede so grisliche ydight,
So faire ycointised, so semlich in sight,
So stifliche yongeth, so doughty a knight?

(What is he, this young lord, who cometh from the fight,/ With blood-red clothes so fearsomely arrayed?/ So fair a countenance, so beautiful in sight,/ So stoutly armed, so valiant a knight?)

Read more at Catholic Herald.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 10th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.

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